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South Asia’s Peace Nobel: symbolic vs pragmatic

Rakibul Hasan |
Update: 2014-10-23 08:37:00
South Asia’s Peace Nobel: symbolic vs pragmatic

This year Norwegian Noble Committee awards peace prize to two South Asian child activists— Malala Yousafzai (being a teenager) and Kailash Satyarthi (working for children). One turns into famous daring to defy Taliban’s drag against women education and may be Noble Committee just upholds her symbolic unbeaten stands towards girls education in the fanatic Swat valley of Pakistan and other recipient—seemingly unknown, silently campaigns during long three decades (since 1990) and in the mean time, he achieves remarkable successes against rampant child suppression in India. Therefore, this joint Peace prize represents both symbolic and pragmatic dimensions.

For Kailash Satiyarthi, the Nobel Prize is a due recognition for his pragmatic achievement. Kailash (60)—an anonymous figure even more than his co-recipient Malala, established ‘Bachpan Bachao Andolan’—an anti-child slavery organization in 1980 and till today, he directly rescued a larger number of 80,000 thousands children from child slavery—exploitation, abuses, trafficking etc. India constitutes a large number of child laborers, close to 50 million, compared to 168 million in the world and among them around 10 million are bonded as their parents sold them out financially (a chronic medieval slavery). This anonymous and silent campaigner organized ‘Global March against Child Labor in 1990s to free exploited children through number of other Gandhian approach of nonviolent demonstrations and protests.

Since 1901, a number of 128 outstanding people receive the Nobel Peace Prizes. Notable of them include Woodrow Wilson (contribution in establishing League of Nations), Cordel Hull (working for UN organization), Martin Luthar King (nonviolent campaign for civil rights), Henry Kissinger (contribution in ending Vietnam war), Nelson Mandela (terminating apartheid), Mother Teresa (charity missionary), Aung San Suu Kyi (Peaceful transition for democracy), Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama etc. With these noble Nobel Peace laureates, Malala and Kailash shouldn’t be compared, rather will be evaluated differently through different categories and standards. Because today, world leaders engage neither to terminate any bipolar war nor to form any world order and it is also not ‘solely’ required such leaderly role now on and on the other hand, citizen activism gains its momentum in these days. That is why Kailash and Malala belong to separate causes—citizen activism and its spillover effects on the entire globe.

However, first Muslim women in this recognition, Shirin Ebadi of Iran who demonstrated huge organizational mile folk to attain basic human rights for the women and children folk what Malala and Kailash are working on now. Prof. Dr. Ebadi (also among Forbes’ 100 most powerful women in the world) organized ‘Million Signatures Campaign’ against legal discrimination of Iranian women. Moreover, Liberia’s Leymah Gbowee and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who boosted up women’s participation in peace movement terminating bloody 2nd Liberian Civil War in 2003. Along with them, Yemen’s Tawakkul Karman—first Arab and 2nd youngest (aged 32) Nobel Peace laureate who receives the award for her robust activism on women participation in peacebuilding work through her organization named ‘Women Journalist Without Chains’ which advocates women rights and provides journalistic skills. Since 2007, Tawakkul introduced weekly protests in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a against systematic government repression and in 2011, she redirected the protesters toward ‘Arab Spring’ and that is why she is called as ‘Mother of the Revolution’ and ‘Iron Woman’. 

Now Malala’s name is uttered along with the words, Ebadi, Leymah, Sirleaf, and Tawakkul who have dimensioned women empowerment resulting in tangible achievements—something we can measure and significantly, they directly hit the society and gained embodied outcomes but, what Malala did pragmatic? If not, what she symbolizes then? Yes, she let the world know a medieval scenario of women repression and symbolizes courage of nonviolent social change and very positively her symbolic role achieves recognition.

Amidst some debates from the critiques about her rise, this youngest ever (17 year old, compared to 62-year average age of all other Nobel peace laureates) world discovers an exceptional example of ‘youth solution to the youth suppression’ in Malala. Since 2009, she was writing on critical issues of girls rights through Urdu blog service of BBC using an pseudonym, ‘Gul Makai’ and suddenly came out in the mainstreaming media for her outspoken advocacy for universal education, girls’ rights and factual reporting on Talibanist atrocities in Swat valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province what she terms terrorists as fearing ‘A Girl with a Book’. Soon after the news reached to Taliban, fanatics hit-listed and shoot on her head during a campaign for girls’ education and later on, Taliban took the responsibility and accused Malala promoting ‘secularism’. 

She was immediately brought to UK for treatment purposes and a successful surgery inserting a titanium plate in her head returned her into normal life. She continued her favorite physics studies at private ‘Edgbaston High School for Girls’ at Birmingham, United Kingdom. A New York Times Journalist, Adam B. Ellick documented her life which triggered Pakistani intervention in the valley. Within the week of Malala’s assassination attempt, UN special envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown launched ‘Malala Petition’ in the UN urging all children of the world  to complete their primary schooling which compel Pakistan to pass its  first ever ‘Education Bull’. 

For that proposes, she is constantly raising donation for ‘Malala Fund’ to campaign for girls education. In 3013, she released her memoir, ‘I am Malala’—a bestseller co-written with British Journalist, Christina Lamb. Before Nobel award, European Union (EU) also awarded her ‘Sakharov Prize’ for her freedom of thoughts and incredible strength for universal child education in 2013.  Moreover, introducing ‘Malala Day’ (July 16th as her birthday), UN Secretary General promotes Global Education First Initiative what she says ‘One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world’.

Thus Malala is not an individual’s name; rather she has become a synonym for millions of girls who are deprived of basic education rights in different parts of Pakistan and beyond. Now these girls are inspired and some of them started dreaming and Malala is just a start for them. ‘I believe the committee didn’t just give this award to me. It is for all the children whose voices are not being heard around the world’, said Malala as her immediate reaction of Nobel award in UK.

Ironically Malala faces critiques from both sides. One side involves a debate on her abstract qualification. For instances, Norwegian jurist Fredrik Heffermehl terms her Nobel Prize winning as ‘All of that is irrelevant…far from the purposes as intended by Alfred Nobel and against the promotion of global disarmament’.

And other side includes conspiracy theory portraying her as western agent, a blasphemer and a traitor in her home country, Pakistan. For instance, Shamal Editor Ghulam Farooq reacted that foreign powers staged a ‘drama on her shoot’; as in previous, conservative segment of Pakistani society smelled controversies when previous Pakistani theoretical physicist Abdus Salam received the Nobel Prize because of his affiliation to Ahmadiya beliefs.

In South Asia, women rights activists suffer prolonged hatreds—in Bangladesh, Tasleema Nasreen counts her exile in India since 1962 for her typical feminist views and criticism on religious explanation of women rights. Seemingly it seems to be quite impossible for Malala to return in Pakistan as she dreams to be a ‘Good Politician’ instead of her former dream of a Doctor, even very specifically her return to Pakistan as ‘Prime Minister’ for serving the dysfunctional nation (CNN, 2013).

Avoiding ‘either/or’ superiority in-between Kailsah-Malala, the prize is just announced when a deadly rivalry locks India and Pakistan into cross border violence killing at least twenty people to date and displacing hundreds of families in recent cross border artillery operation. This award at least engages the two countries into a common cause—child suppression religiously and economically. Wishing to work together with Kailash, Malala invited recently Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi to join in Nobel Award Ceremony in December at Oslo—obviously a positive ominous in rival bilateralism.

Certainly Malala has to face a couple of challenges in upcoming days like—how she will maximize her campaign for universal girl’s education in a measurable way as her ancestors—Ebadi, Lemah etc did in their concerns? When will more politically matured Malala return to Pakistan having a celebrated welcome or does she has to embrace the fate of Benzir Bhutto or Abdus Salam? The absolute answers to the questions will certainly evaluate another Malala at the end of the day or repeats the 2009’s disputed euphoria of ‘Yes, We Can’ to get Peace Nobel (Time, 2011).

The author ([email protected]) is Sub-Editor of The Bangladesh Today and former Research Assistant of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies.

BDST: 1830 HRS, OCT 23, 2014

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